National Geographic : 2005 Oct
With long tusks and little effort, 25-year-old Ning Nong and Artou, his mahout of three years, show tourists at Chiang Dao Elephant Training Camp how timber was once hauled from forests. Although Thailand banned commercial logging of natural forests in 1989, illegal operations continue. motorbikes, barking dogs, and tag-a -long knots of shrieking kids. One resident gives money to have Bom suck up a trunkful of water and spray it through his doorway as a blessing upon the house. One of the mahouts ties a flashing red light to her long tail and reflective tape to Mini max's so the animals are visible to cars passing in the darkness. Vendors begin opening their streetside stalls. Several give Minimax melons and squash from their own wares. Parents buy bananas and pass them to toddlers to hold while 108 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC * OCTOBER 2005 colossal Bom, watched by some of the widest eyes ever to appear on a child's face, plucks the treats carefully from their hands. Business is picking up, but it looks as if the day's net will be under $20. Between a third and a half of that will go to the elephants' owner. The rest will be split five ways, with enough kept out to buy fresh bananas for the next day. It's a competitive situation: In Khon Kaen, a city of 150,000, there are a dozen other elephant crews trying to eke out a living the same way.